We live in a world that has information like never before and what is more, that information is readily accessible with a few taps to a keyboard, it has become common to say: “I’ll google it.”  Yet, despite the level of availability of information, there are still ‘uninformed’ people in the world – our society is still broken, sin abounds, leaders are corrupt etc.  People research and gather data, make studies, do research, people puff up knowledge and still have not found a source of wisdom.

One must know the difference between the pursuit of knowledge and the pursuit of wisdom, both are excellent pursuits, but each has a different value, and a lot is dependent on the SOURCE.

So what is wisdom? 

Scripture often uses the words knowledge, understanding, and wisdom interchangeably, but occasionally they are spoken of as separate and distinct.  It may be useful to attempt to define the differences in meaning.

Knowledge is the facts. Understanding is the ability to lift the meaning out of the facts, and Wisdom knows what to do next.

Wisdom is not just the accumulation of knowledge. Wisdom is the God-given ability to apply the right kind of knowledge to each situation. Knowledge comes from books. Wisdom comes from the Book. Knowledge comes from below. Wisdom comes from above.  Here is a useful table:

Knowledge Understanding Wisdom
Facts Meaning What to do next
Information Principles Application
Memory Reason Action
Scholar Teachers Prophet

Those with knowledge can collect, remember, and access information. They “know” the Scriptures. God’s word is literally “in them”. They are scholars. But, it is possible to have the knowledge and yet, lack understanding and wisdom.  To have the facts, but have no clue as to the meaning or what to do next.

Those with understanding can abstract the meaning out of information. They “see-through” the facts to the dynamics of what, how, and why. They are teachers. Understanding is a lens which brings the facts into crisp focus. Understanding produces “rules of thumb” or principles.

Those with wisdom know which principle to apply now. Understanding without wisdom can appear contradictory. For example, “He who hesitates is lost”, is a valid principle as well as: “Haste makes waste”. We see the truth of both. But which should we apply next?

Those with wisdom know what to do next; they know which way to go. They do the right thing. In contrast, there are many who have great knowledge and understanding but consistently do the wrong thing. Wisdom, in this sense, is the goal, and knowledge and understanding only have eternal value as they result in wisdom, or what we end up doing.

Wisdom is, therefore, knowledge applied in real-life circumstances; everyone qualifies to have wisdom (it is not just for the elite or intelligent).  The opposite of a wise person is a foolish person: described as one who does not listen to the correction of wisdom.

“If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” (James 1:5)

Since God rarely gives all three gifts to any person, we need to cooperate and assist each other with our particular gifting.  God promises wisdom to those who ask. Knowledge and understanding may be beyond us.

Most often, when we pray for wisdom, God calls us into fellowship with believers who can provide an answer, but whom we may not like. God has given wisdom generously, but we will not submit ourselves to the Body of Christ and more importantly, to His Word to receive it!

There is undoubtedly a considerable amount of knowledge in this world, and we all benefit from it. We are living during a knowledge and information explosion. But knowledge alone is not enough. Knowledge and education have not proven to be the answers to the fundamental problems of humanity. Our prayer should be:

Lord teach us to number our days, so that we may present to you a heart of wisdom.” Ps 90:12

Wisdom is the pursuit we should have all the days of our life, not just knowledge or methods of thinking.

Lord, give me a heart that pursues wisdom.  Help me not to get trapped in the pursuit of knowledge for the sake of accumulating knowledge.  Help me to value wisdom above knowledge and seek Your face and Your word in the pursuit of wisdom.  Thank you for bringing wise people into my life who I can learn from.  Thank you for wise people at church and in my fellowship group.  Thank you for wise friends.  Help me to listen carefully and implement wisdom into my life.

Two Kinds of Wisdom (Next in the 10 Part series on Wisdom)

The Path of Wisdom (previous)